SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Steve Young doesn't mean to sound like a broken record, but, after all, he's heard the questions before.
"I hope I get in the game every week," Young, the San Francisco 49ers' backup quarterback, said yesterday. "I'd love to be playing."
Young, 29, has been patiently responding to reporters' queries about his amount of playing time for more than three years, his tenure as backup to the seemingly unstoppable Joe Montana.
This season has been worse than usual for Young. Montana, 34, is off to what may be his best start. Through six games, he is averaging 324.8 passing yards a game. Only in the 1982 strike season was Montana's passing yardage higher after the first six games.
Of more pertinence to Young's situation is Montana's endurance. For the first time since 1985, Montana has started the first six games of the season and -- until last Sunday -- had taken every snap in those games.
"He's been really strong," Young said. "All the credit goes to him. He's taken some hard hits."
Young finally got some playing time last Sunday against Pittsburgh. With the 49ers in control, leading 27-7 with 7 1/2 minutes to play, Young relieved Montana.
But by that point, the 49ers were more interested in running out the clock than in letting Young show his stuff. Young handed the ball off 11 times and then downed the ball on the final play of the series.
"At that point in the game, we wanted to run the ball," offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren said. "We had a pass called on third down, but then Ricky Siglar jumped offside, and we changed the play to a run."
It's always something. Young's only other entrance into a game was in Houston, after Montana had been knocked down. Young immediately fumbled away the snap, but Houston had already called a timeout, nullifying the play. And when the timeout was over, Montana trotted back in and dumped the ball off to John Taylor, who went 46 yards for the winning touchdown.
Just another day at the office for Montana.
Just another chapter of frustration for Young.
"I know he's frustrated," Holmgren said. "There are no easy answers, but Steve's done a real good job this year of not allowing the frustration to get to him."
Young is in the final year of his contract with the 49ers and did not seek a trade last season, a decision he says he doesn't regret.
"This is the offense that I'm best in," he said. "Things have gone well when I have played. This isn't something I relish, but it's the nature of where I've been put."
There will, undoubtedly, come a time in the season when Young is needed to do more than simply run out the clock. But, even though the team has a healthy four-game lead in the division, neither Holmgren nor coach George Seifert expects to tamper with what's been working so well just to give some players more playing time.
"It [Young's lack of playing time] is a concern," Holmgren said. "But he's been in that situation before and has come in and played well. I think it's premature [to change anything] at this point."
Especially when Montana seems to be filling his water bottle at the fountain of youth.